In all, I thought it was a slightly odd episode in general, one that provided unusual pleasures—Mag the Mighty, for instance, the giant who single-handedly broaches the gate—but was largely missing the primary elements that make the show such a consistent joy: the cunning dialogue, the unexpected plot swerves, etc. Indeed, apart from Ygritte’s death, almost nothing of genuine import happened tonight. Mance’s preliminary testing of the Wall’s defenses has been repelled, but he still has an overwhelming force of men and monsters preparing for their next assault. And given this episode’s singular focus, who knows what may have been going on in the rest of Westeros (and Essos) in the meantime—poisonings? betrayals? copious amounts of gratuitous nudity? I’ll only say this: unless I’m sorely mistaken, next week’s finale—in previous seasons the time when Benioff and Weiss have reset the board after a shocking episode nine—should be chock full of game-changers.
What did you think, Amy? Did the battle of the Wall leave you blown away, or nostalgic for the plots and counter-plots of King’s Landing? Or both?
Sullivan: Both. On first viewing, I loved the episode and the way it captured this terrifying battle-on-two-fronts. Ser Alliser Thorne finally stops being an ass, admits Jon Snow was right about sealing the tunnel while they had the chance, and then mostly redeems himself by giving the boy rangers a shot of courage before they confront the invading wildings in hand-to-hand combat. (Thorne seemed pretty darn skillful with the sword himself in his duel with Tormund Giantsbane.) Jon Snow is in charge and kicking ass, both atop the Wall and again down below while finishing off the remaining invaders. Six brave brothers make me tear up chanting their vows while facing off against a seriously scary giant—and then give their lives while defending the gate. Sam finally gets a kiss from Gilly. Ghost!
As you say, Chris, the production was flat-out amazing. Admittedly, I don’t get out to the movies anymore. But this episode was as cinematically impressive as anything I’ve seen in a theater. Okay, so if you counted up the number of brothers who fell victim to the wildings on both sides, it might well exceed the 102 we know to be on hand at Castle Black at the beginning of the battle. And with everyone wearing black, it honestly got a little hard to distinguish between the wildings and the Night’s Watch, aside from the big bad baldies.
But as a cinematic spectacle that had me riveted for all of the 50 minutes, even though I knew how it was going to end, the episode was fantastic. I got chills watching Mag the Mighty leading the Wilding army toward the wall, as well as when he speared one of the Night’s Watch 700 feet above him. Yikes.
Once the credits ran, however—and especially after watching the previews for next week’s season finale—I was less satisfied. You addressed the way this season’s timing took some of the power away from Ygritte’s death, Chris. Even the episode handled her oddly—after the show reminded us last week that Ygritte does have a heart when she spared Gilly and then had her threaten Magnar at the start tonight if he failed to leave Jon to her, I half-expected Ygritte to take out the Thenn when he and Jon started brawling.